december 25th, 2017 
boston, massachusetts
“Mom, Aunt Linda knocked the Christmas tree over again…” You’re counting money as your walk into the kitchen and look up only long enough to see your mom roll her eyes.

It happens every year, so no one is surprised by it anymore. Hell, people had started taking bets a few years back to see how long she’d last before she got so drunk that she’d fall into the carefully decorated tree that your parents had spent a good twelve hours fighting over. Naturally, you’d taken this chance to profit a little too seriously, and had taken to doing just about everything in your power to tip the scales in your favor, even if it meant extra booze in her egg nog or just straight up pushing her into the tree. (You were a very industrious person.) This time, though, she’d done it all her own and you couldn’t have been happier about it.

This is Christmas in your house. It’s loud and it’s crowded and it’s a little bit crazy. It’s always your mom cooking enough food to feed a small army while your dad narrowly avoids hanging himself with tangles of Christmas lights, it’s Aunt Linda making it to her fifth cup of hard nog before she starts stumbling and the smell of cinnamon mixing with the fire in the hearth. You manage to say just quiet enough to fly under the radar, sipping your spiked cocoa and watching your insane family and all the chaos with an idle smile playing across your face.

It’s perfect. Just like it always is.

But then Aunt Linda starts screaming and the sounds of Christmas bulbs bursting erupt from the tree. You turn to see what’s going on and the whole thing falls away, like paint running off a canvas.

You're sitting bolt upright in a cot in the middle of nowhere. It’s nothing like where you were, because that was all you could have asked for and then some. No, it’s the rapid pop! pop! pop! of gunfire coming from somewhere in the distance outside of your tent, voices you can’t make out saying things you can’t make sense of from where you are. You curse and roll off your cot, easily slipping your feet into the boots by your makeshift bed and jamming the helmet onto your head.

The sand in your boots is rough under your toes, but you ignore it and scramble gracelessly to your feet.

It’s not until you’re outside, wrenching down the sides of your flak jacket, that everything seems to sink in. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but there’s something about this that you can’t quite put your finger on; something about bullets ringing in your ears, the sounds of other people’s screams ripping through you to your core, and the acrid stench of nearby flames burning your nostrils.

Before you know it, you’re running. You’re going as fast as your feet will carry you, but you’re not sure where it is you’re going.

There’s a crack like lighting in front of you. And you’re falling.



You only know you’re actually awake this time because not only do you crack your head on the hard wood floor when you hit the ground, but the landing also knocks the wind out of you. Still, you have to give yourself a second to take it in, to take a breath and take account of where you are, in your bedroom, with your bright red bedsheets and Golden Girls prints on the wall, the R2D2 alarm clock blinking 1:36AM. Groaning, you roll over onto your back, pulling the blanket off your bed as you do, and stare up at the ceiling while you will your heart to chill the fuck out.

Nearly twenty minutes pass like this, but you finally manage to peel yourself up on the floor. You take a second to pull yourself together and push away all the bullshit; the last thing you want is to think about Christmases long past. All you want to do right now is pay attention to now. Which means that going back to sleep isn’t an option. So you change clothes, tie your hair up into a knot on top of your head, and slip your feet into a beat up pair of moto boots, smiling as you curl your toes. It’s a simple, little reminder that you’re home and you’re safe.

You give the room one last look over as you hoist a large bag over your shoulder. Satisfied, you smile, then press the button on your teleporter, and vanish without a trace.

Maybe you won’t be sleeping tonight, but at least you’ll get a jump on getting to play Santa Whitney.